Kirkwall Ba' Game


Kirkwall Ba' Game (copyright: John P. Shearer [ of Orkney])
Kirkwall Ba' Game (copyright: John P. Shearer [ of Orkney])

One of a small number of such games still existing in Scotland, the Kirkwall ba' game takes place twice a year: Christmas Eve and Hogmanay. Its historical origins are unclear, but, in essence, it is a game of mass-football, played up and down the streets of the town centre, of the type that was once quite common in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK. It pits the 'uppies' against the 'doonies' (or 'up the gates' against 'down the gates'). The ba' itself is a hand-made, cork-filled leather ball. The allegieance of the players is tradtionally determined by the end of town the family comes from. These days, however, according to, family loyalty is usually more important than the place of birth, with stalwart players playing for the same side as their father, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did before them, regardless of where they now live.

Two games are played on each of the two dates: a boys' game at 10.30 in the morning, and the men's starting at 1 pm. The aim for the uppies is to touch the ball aginst a wall in the wouth end of town, while the doonies try to get the ball into the water of Kirkwall Bay, at the northern end of town. This aside, there are few rules, and the games (even the boys') tend to go one for a number of hours, with the boys game sometimes overlapping the men's.

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